Doctor Who is set to move to its latest regular time slot ever, with the BBC’s draft schedules currently indicating that from Saturday 27th September the show could start as late as 8:30pm for the remainder of its current run.
That would mean an end time of 9:15pm – a quarter of an hour past the watershed and much later than many young Doctor Who fans’ bedtimes.
Even last year’s 50th anniversary special and new Doctor Peter Capaldi’s feature-length debut, which both began at 7:50pm, only aired until 9:10pm, despite their extended 70-minute running times.
The show has been edging away from its traditional tea-time slot for a while now. The first ever series of Doctor Who back in 1963 was shown at 5:15pm and was aimed squarely at a school-aged audience. When it returned in its re-imagined form in 2005, it was in a 7pm slot, and recently-departed Doctor Matt Smith’s last series began at 7:20pm.
The planned later slot is due to the return of Strictly Come Dancing, together with Doctor Who’s new summer start. The sci-fi series has traditionally kicked off in the spring but the decision to give Capaldi his full debut on 23rd August means Doctor Who will now follow Strictly, currently pencilled in for 7pm, when it begins a week on Saturday.
Although the proposed start time of 8:30pm would be a full 40 minutes later than Doctor Who has ever been scheduled before, BBC insiders believe precedents have been set by BBC1’s other Saturday-night fantasy-dramas Merlin and Atlantis, which also followed Strictly Come Dancing.
Merlin was shown in a 7:45pm slot during it’s darker final series – still 45 minutes earlier than the proposed new time for Doctor Who – but Atlantis did start later, at 8:25pm.
“It’s always been the plan for this series of Doctor Who to follow Strictly, once Strictly started, in the same way that Atlantis and previously Merlin did, as this series is on air in the autumn,” a BBC insider told RadioTimes.com.
In fact, BBC bosses are likely hoping that the double bill of Strictly followed by Doctor Who will help them win the battle for Saturday night against ITV, who are currently airing their talent show big hitter The X Factor in an 8pm-9:20pm slot.
“It’s going to be a brilliant BBC1 Saturday night with Strictly into Doctor Who,” said the BBC insider.
Whether Doctor Who’s target audience of young children and their parents will agree remains to be seen, but insiders point out that any viewers who are unable to watch the show when it is broadcast can catch up via set top recorders or BBC iPlayer.
“Viewing levels are still high at that time amongst young audiences and children,” said the insider, “and Doctor Who has always generated very high levels of recorded playback and iPlayer viewing so lots of children and families already choose a time that suits them over the days that follow.”